Summer Sabbatical 2016 Awardees

Congratulations to this year’s awardees and mentors. We thank the NIH for making these collaborative efforts possible.

Dr Veronica Gonzalez

Veronica Gonzalez is an Assistant Professor in the Chemistry Department at El Paso Community College (EPCC). She’s participated in the American Chemical Society, the Medical Professionals Organization and the AmeriCorps National Service. Previous research has included studying the role of inositol monophosphatase in bipolar disorder. Her ultimate goal is to establish chemical, biochemical and environmental research programs at EPCC.

Dr Mark Pagel

Mentor Dr. Mark “Marty” Pagel is an Associate Professor in Biomedical Imaging and is the Director of the Contrast Agent Molecular Engineering Laboratory (CAMEL) at the Cancer Center at The University of Arizona. Dr. Pagel’s research focuses on the measurement of tumor acidosis using non-invasive MRI. Through “acidoCEST MRI,” a technique that his research program has refined, acidosis can be measured in a variety of tumor models to study cancer biology and the effects of anti-cancer therapies.

The team is evaluating a new drug that inhibits γ-glutamyl transferase (GGT) enzyme in tumor models of human metastatic ovarian cancer.

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Dr. Jorge Lopez serves as the Chair and Shumaker Professor in the Department of Physics at The University of Texas at El Paso. His research activities focus on nuclear physics; characterizations of materials; AES; XPS; SIMS; and astronomy.

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Mentor Dr. Ricardo Alarcon is a Professor of Physics at Arizona State University. His current research is centered on experimental nuclear and particle physics; cold neutrons; and electron scattering.

The team is collaborating to complement a research endeavor being pursued jointly by Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic with the goal of developing methods of improving particle detectors used in medical treatments to impact patient quality assurance.

Dr Munder Zagaar
Dr. Munder Zagaar is an Assistant Professor of Geriatrics in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Texas Southern University. He has produced eight peer-reviewed publications in addition to co-authoring a chapter on the neuroprotective effects of caffeine in sleep deprivation in the book series, Food and Nutritional Components in Focus, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Dr. Zagaar’s research background is primarily in neuropharmacology and mental health.

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Mentor Dr. Maria Eugenia Fernández-Esquer is an Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences at the Center for Health Promotion & Prevention Research at The University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. Her research focuses on AIDS and cancer prevention; the perception of risk; and ethnic differences in health beliefs and behaviors

Their research aims to investigate the extent to which discrimination distress in Latinos is associated with nondiabetic glycemic control (i.e., HbA1C).


Dr. Olac Fuentes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas at El Paso. His area of research is machine learning for science, particularly the development of systems that can help scientists extract knowledge and insight from the large amounts of scientific data currently available. He has worked in applications in astronomy; optics; geology; and biology.

graciela gonzales
Mentor Dr. Graciela Gonzalez is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Arizona State University (ASU) and the Data Core Director for one of the largest National Institutes of Health-supported Alzheimer’s Disease Centers. She also leads the DIEGO (Discovery through Integration and Extraction of Genomic knOwledge) lab at ASU

Dr. Gonzalez positions her research in the cross-cutting field of knowledge discovery from “big data”: using natural language processing (NLP) to extract information from clinical records, journal articles and social media postings to elucidate data patterns; trends and relationships that can aid the discovery process in genetic research; precision medicine; clinical decision support; and public health monitoring and surveillance.

Dr. Fuentes is collaborating with Dr. Gonzalez to develop a proof-of-concept system that will demonstrate transfer learning capabilities in information extraction from social media in a health informatics application. Their project is titled, Transfer Learning for Information Extraction from Social Media in Health Informatics.

Dr Karina Castillo

Dr. Karina Castillo is an Assistant Chemistry Professor at El Paso Community College (EPCC). She is interested in research projects involving environmental issues in the community—particularly metal nanoparticles and their effect on living organisms. Dr. Castillo is responsible for forming the Chemistry Club at EPCC, as she enjoys working with students and providing them with hands-on science experience. She also participates as a research mentor for undergraduate students as part of the UTEP RISE program and the BUILDing SCHOLARS Center.

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Mentor Dr. Russell Chianelli is a Chemistry Professor at The University of Texas at El Paso. He directs the Materials Research and Technology Institute (MRTI), which has been vital in helping students across various sciences conduct research in environmental science; materials; chemistry; and engineering.

Their research aims to investigate Mayan pigments on different cell lines in order to determine the effectiveness of pigments decreasing cancer cells.

jeremi slack picture

Dr. Jeremy Slack is an Assistant Professor of Geography at The University of Texas at El Paso. With over a decade of research along the U.S.-Mexico border, he focuses on the impacts; experiences; and processes of migration and deportation during an era of heightened enforcement. Other research interests include political geography; drugs and illegality; state theory; borders; and Latin America.

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Mentor Dr. Luis H. Zayas is the Dean and the Robert Lee Sutherland Chair of Mental Health and Social Policy at the School of Work at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Zayas is one of the nation’s leading advocates for U.S.-born children of immigrant parents, as well as an expert on issues relating to child and adolescent mental health. During his 35-year career in social work, he has conducted research in diagnostic processes; suicide attempts of young Latinas; and adapting interventions for Latino children, youth and families.

The team is working together to integrate health questions into their research in order to better understand the unique type of trauma and complex harm that U.S.-born children and their parents face during deportation.